The tour starts at our hotel in Delhi. The rest of the day is free to relax and recover from the flight or for individual exploration of Delhi. The rooms in the hotel are usually available from mid morning. Those who have made their own flight arrangements will join us at the hotel during the day.
A very early start today for the flight to Leh. We usually leave the hotel at around 2am and drive to the airport for the very early morning but highly spectacular flight over the Himalaya to Leh. If the weather is good and the flight goes on time we should be in Leh for breakfast. The rest of the day is free to relax and acclimatize to the altitude (3,500m). Flying straight to the high altitude of Leh can take your breath away (literally) and so we concentrate on acclimatising for the first few days. In the morning we rest and catch up on some sleep and in the afternoon there will be a gentle orientation walk of Leh and its bazaars.
Today there is a sightseeing tour to two of the major gompas (monasteries) in the area. We first drive to Shey, a former Royal Palace of the Ladakh kings. Inside is a small temple containing a 350 year old copper and gold statue of the Buddha. From Shey we walk across the fields on a good level trail to Tikse, where we visit the monastery perched on top of a hill - its red and white buildings can be seen for miles. We can explore the temples and courtyards and meet the red robed monks who live here. In one of the temples there is a 15 metre high statue of the Future Buddha. We return to Leh in the afternoon.
There is the chance today to make an optional jeep safari to the Khardung Pass; at 5,602m. it is reputedly one of the highest motorable roads in the world. This can be booked and paid for locally, your leader will have details. Those not wanting to do the jeep safari can walk up to the Leh Palace and Tsemo monastery, which are set above the town on Namgyal Hill with magnificent views of the whole of Leh and its surrounding villages. In the afternoon there will be an optional cycle ride along the banks of the Indus River. (Please note the smallest bike size available in Leh is 15 inches). Anyone not wanting to do the bike ride can hike to the recently built Japanese Peace Pagoda. This huge stupa overlooks Leh and we have stunning views of the town and the Stok range of mountains across the valley.
By now we should be well acclimatised; we leave Leh and take to the river for a spot of easy white water rafting. We drive to Phey, where the rafting starts. After a full safety briefing we set off down the river. This is not high-level white water rafting but there are some sections of grade 2 and 3 rapids. This means that a novice rafter will find it exhilarating and not too scary. Just after setting off we float through an impressive gorge to where the Zanskar River flows into the Indus. After about 3 hours the rafting ends at Nimmu, where we dry off and rejoin our transport for the 2-3 hour drive to Yangtang. If we have time, there is the chance to visit Likir monastery en route. The monastery is well kept and there is an active school for young monks. We camp tonight near Yangtang village (3,683m). If there is time we can explore the village and maybe visit the small local school or watch the Ladakhis sowing the barley and potatoes, the staple crops of these hardy mountain people. From the campsite there are wonderful southerly views over the village to the Ladakh Range beyond.
We start our trek today heading west on an easy trail which climbs to our first pass, the Tsarmangchan (3,888m). There are wonderful views down to the village of Hemis Shupachen (3,663m). This tranquil village with a small gompa, green pastures and a babbling brook is a lovely place to stay for the night. Today's walk is 4km and should take approximately 3 hours. In the afternoon we can visit the monastery and have a look around the village.
From camp we cross the pastures in a north westerly direction skirting the sides of the fields. After a stop at a chorten we follow the trail past the mature juniper trees that give the village its name, juniper is shukpa in Ladakhi. The path climbs easily to our first pass today, the Mebtek La (3,796m) from where we can admire the pink and mauve-coloured mountains ahead. We descend into the next valley and the trail ahead can just be made out as it zig zags up the mountainside in the distance. The path winds up to the Lago La (3,832m) and from the top there are magnificent views across to the south side of the Indus Valley. The trail descends steeply from the pass to the village of Ang. This area is regarded as the richest in Ladakh and fields of barley, potatoes and fruit orchards provide more than adequate food for these villages. From Ang it is an easy walk (although it can be hot and dusty) along the new jeep track to Temisgam (3,256m). This is the largest, most prosperous village on the trek. Set amongst fertile fields as well as spreading apple and apricot orchards there are some fine examples of large, whitewashed Ladakhi homes. As a result of a division of Ladakh in the 14th to 15th centuries, the lower kingdom was controlled from Basgo and Temisgam. Little remains of its glorious past and the castle is in ruins but there are still temples you can visit. 5 hours walking.
A longer day today. We begin with a gentle ascent to the base of the Skinyang pass. We pass the pretty village of Tia and then Charcha as we follow a new jeep track. The trail then begins to climb up a barren hillside to a col at 3,927m. From here a wonderful boulder strewn landscape greets us. The wild landscape around here is home to Snow Leopards and Blue Sheep. We can see the pass ahead and an easy 45minutes walk brings us to the top of the pass at 4,060m. We now descend into a dry valley which we follow to a set of chortens above the village. The last 30 minutes of the descent is a little steeper as we drop down to Skinyang (3,531m), a traditional Ladakhi village where we spend the night. (Please note there is the option today of going all the way to Skinyang by jeep or if it is very hot we can drive to Tia at the base of the pass to avoid the heat).
We descend to the road head and join the main Leh to Srinagar road from where we drive to Alchi, where we stay in a simple guesthouse near to the monastery.
Alchi village is set in a side valley hidden from the main road and is an oasis of calm. In summer the villagers are busy in the fields with their crops of barley, wheat and vegetables. The climate here is very mild and apricot trees abound. We have time here to observe village life and we may get the chance to visit a local family. Alchi monastery is one of the most important cultural sites in Ladakh. Built in the 11th century, it is a treasure trove of early Buddhist art in the Kashmiri tradition, a style quite different from the Tibetan art found in Ladakh's other monasteries.
We drive back towards Leh and en route stop at Basgo Fort. Now mostly in ruins it is spectacularly situated in the wind blown rocks. We spend some time here exploring the ruins and temples. Driving past Leh we continue to Stok village where we spend the night. On the way we can stop at a Bactrian Camel breeding farm. For centuries the double humped Bactrian Camel was used to transport loads over the Himalaya but they are now rarely seen in Ladakh. The small breeding farm was set up by the government to keep the species alive. We stay tonight in Stok, a large village with beautiful views across to the Ladakh mountains.
Stok is only an hour from Leh and is home to the royal family of Ladakh. Ladakh still has its own king, who spends some of the year in the palace here in Stok. The magnificent red and white palace overlooks the village. Some of the rooms are private but some have been made into a museum which we can visit. We have a short (1 hour) drive back to Leh and in the afternoon there is the chance to visit the Donkey Sanctuary in Leh. For the last couple of years Exodus has been helping support this home for old or injured donkeys and it's a delightful place to visit. Make sure you take lots of tasty carrots with you - the donkeys love them!
We fly from Leh to Delhi. The rest of the day is free for individual sightseeing in Delhi. You may want to visit the colourful bazaars and the Red Fort in the heart of Old Delhi or visit some of the Mogul monuments dotted round this ancient city.
For those on the flight inclusive package you will depart for London this morning for the daytime flight back to London; those on Land Only arrangements will leave us after checkout at the hotel.